HEAR is giving those affected by Indiana’s restrictive adoption laws of the past a platform and a microphone for their message—a message we are taking straight to the Indiana legislature. We have a bill before the Indiana General Assembly in the form of Senate Bill 91. The legislation is authored by Sen. Brent Steele (R), and it is gaining momentum every day.
Here’s why we believe the time is now for our bill, which will:
Give every adult adoptee in Indiana the same rights to access their records.
Until 1941, every child adopted in Indiana had the right to view their original birth certificate (OBC), mainly because there were few laws governing the process. In 1941, the state created a mandatory seal for all adoptee records—a law which lasted until 1993. Realizing that this level of secrecy around adoption was bad for everyone involved, the Indiana legislature passed a law in 1993 that allowed any child adopted after Jan. 1, 1994 to approach the state and obtain their OBC after their 21st birthday. There was no grandfather access for adult adoptees in the closed access period, however. Our bill would extend this right for those adopted during the “closed record” period—from 1941 to 1993. We aren’t asking for different systems or rights. Only an extension of what is already offered to other Hoosier adoptees.
Our bill will extend the current OBC access law to adult adoptees in the closed access group, while offering birth/first parents who do not wish to be contacted the ability to express their wishes through a contact-preference form.
Propose changes that aren’t burdensome to the system.
If passed, this new law will only extend a system that already exists in Indiana. All the processes and forms now in place for those adopted 1993 to today will remain in place, and be used for a new group, those adopted 1941-1993. There are no anticipated hirings or large expenses which would be needed for the state to implement this change.
Provide adult adoptees with critical information they need to make sound decisions in their lives.
Adult adoptees with no access to their records often have no information at all about their family medical history or the circumstances of their adoption. As a result, they don’t understand their genetic risk factors for disease, leading them to either miss important screenings or take unnecessary screening tests. And even if some medical information is in an adoptee’s file, records filled out at birth are never updated, so the adoptee and their families have no way of knowing when important new medical information becomes available.
This lack of basic information about their identity leads to a lifetime of record-keeping problems. Many adoptees during this time period have multiple birth certificates–one in their birth name, and another in their adopted name, or more if the adoption crossed county or state lines. Often administrative backlogs meant certificates were filed in the wrong year, or files had conflicting birthplaces. This confusion over the source of the information often makes many of the other forms containing information about the child, such as applications for social security numbers, medical or school records conflicting. As a result, mundane tasks like getting a passport or filing for a marriage certificate are much more difficult for adoptees. Having an original birth certificate can provide absolute proof of the adoptee’s actual birthday, supersede other incorrect documents, and offer the link to show they had a legal name change upon adoption.
Help Indiana’s adult adoptees and birth/first parents experience the same closure adoptees in the 14 “open access” states enjoy.
According to the real world experience of open access states between 2000 and 2014, the overwhelming majority of birth/first parents—more than 99.9 percent–prefer having their information available in their records, allowing their adult adoptive children to contact them for vital medical information or for any other reason.
Full Access states currently include: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Delaware, Tennessee, Connecticut and Oregon. The transition in these states has gone very smoothly with virtually no complaints from the parties involved. We believe the same results will hold true in Indiana. States with partial access or access with restrictions are: Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Montana, and Vermont.
Allowing adoptees access to historical and medical information about their adoptions is now considered standard best practice. It should be the standard for everyone, regardless of when they were adopted.
A person’s personal origin story goes to the very heart of his or her identity. Family counselors and mental health professionals now understand the policy of closed adoption records has lifelong consequences for everyone in the adoption constellation. For adoptees, not knowing leads to a certain lack of completeness, even when their ties to their adoptive families are very strong. For birth/first parents, knowing their child will never know their name or why they relinquished can lead to a lifetime of unresolved grief and loss. For adoptive parents, not being able to answer the simplest questions of their children, grandchildren (or their doctors) can leave them feeling helpless.
Giving adoptees the ability to access their original birth certificate and the files surrounding their adoption ends this cycle—for everyone.